Bangladesh's inbound tour operators are expecting a good season this winter as foreign leisure tourists have booked trips after two years of travel restrictions brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Most of these travellers are from Japan, Italy, England, Germany, France, Australia and some other Asian countries, say travel operators.
Bangladesh lifted all types of travel restrictions for foreign tourists – imposed due to the Covid-19 pandemic – on 26 September this year, paving the way for tour operators for bookings from foreign tourists for winter trips.
However, tour operators have said that if the declaration of lifting all types of travel restrictions had come a few months ago, they would have received more responses from foreigners.
Though travel costs, including airfare, have increased, the operators said that they did not increase the package cost this year in order to attract guests after a two-year break.
Bengal Tours, one of the leading inbound tour operating agencies in Bangladesh, has already received booking confirmations from more than 600 travellers, who will visit from October 2022 to March 2023.
"Around 65% of the tourists are Japanese, while the rest are from European countries who availed different group tour packages. The cost per day for a tourist under a group package is $75-$85, excluding airfare," Masud Hossain, managing director of Bengal Tours, told The Business Standard.
"We have decreased our profit margin this year so that guests feel free to come to Bangladesh after a long interval," he said, adding that Bengal Tours will increase the cost from the 2023-24 season.
Normally, travellers take 7 to 15 day packages.
"Seven British tourists will come in November this year through our agency. Besides, a group of nine Italian citizens will visit in March next year," Syed Mahbubul Islam Bulu, proprietor of Riverain Tour, told The Business Standard.
"Due to the late announcement of a lifting of restrictions for leisure tourists, many have moved to neighbouring countries," added Bulu, who is also president of Bangladesh Tour Guide Association.
Despite its vast potential, Bangladesh has not yet become a popular destination for foreign tourists in comparison with its neighbouring countries owing to poor tourism and airport infrastructure, complex visa policies, social restrictions and a lack of comfortable transportation facilities, according to experts.
The Bangladesh Tourism Board (BTB) does not have data on country-wise inbound tourists after 2019.
Bangladesh had three lakh inbound tourists in 2019, the highest since the country became independent, according to the BTB.
The figures earlier were 2.48 lakh in 2018, 2.2 lakh in 2017, 1.69 lakh in 2016 and 1.18 lakh in 2015.
In 2019, the number of Indian tourists was 2,70,024, which was 89% of the total number of inbound tourists, according to the tourism board.
Taufiq Rahman, an inbound tour operator and general secretary of Pacific Asia Travel Association (Pata) Bangladesh Chapter, told TBS, "Only 30,000-40,000 foreigners visited Bangladesh for travel purposes in pre-Covid times."
"At present eight Indians are in Bangladesh through my firm. Besides, I have a group of 29 people coming from 27 November to 3 December. Among them, 27 are British and two are Australian," added Toufiq, who is also chief executive of Journey Plus.
"Tourists from different countries, including Argentina and Finland, have also contacted us and some have already confirmed," he added.
Travellers from abroad mainly visit three world heritages- Sundarbans, Shaṭ Gombuj Mosque, Buddhist Vihar at Paharpur, Srimangal and also the capital Dhaka, according to tour operators.
Some tourists also visit Chattogram Hill Tracts, archeological sites like Bogura Mahasthangarh, and the shrine of Lalon Shah in Kushtia.
Among sites in Dhaka, tourists mainly intend to visit Sadarghat, the street vendor ship in old Dhaka, Shakhari Bazar, Lalbag Fort, Star Mosque, Parliament building, Shaheed Minar, and the Liberation War museum.
In 2020 and 2021, tourists hardly visited the country owing to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Those who came to the country were foreigners who work in Bangladesh on tourist visas, non-resident Bangladeshis and business travellers.
Earnings from inbound visitors (not leisure tourists) amounted to a little over TK2,279 crore last year in contrast to Tk1,196 crore in 2020, according to data from the Bangladesh Bank collected by Bangladesh Tourism Board.